On Wednesday evening, I met with new Buyers. Like many of the families I represent, they were darling, had two young kids in tow and were eager to find a house. "We probably should have bought in 2013 when we first arrived in the Bay Area ," he said, "but we weren't sure we would stay. "Now with two kids, we really feel the pressure to settle in." (Hindsight is always 20/20.)
That's a common story. The addition of children are often the impetus for a move, just as when these same children leave the nest years later to form their own separate lives (deserters). As our lives evolve, we often discover that our homes are either too small, or conversely, WAY TOO BIG!
Yesterday, I received a text message from a neighbor at one of my listings, "There's a rope tied around the electrical wires in front of your property that's been there for years. Can you please remove it?" (He's right, it is unsightly, but no, we can't touch the PG&E wires due to liability but will certainly put the company on notice.)
Last week it was a repeated demand to prune some trees at yet another listing. Evidently the expanding foliage has been bothering the neighbor across the street for years. "These were small shrubs when he moved in ten years ago," she complained, "now they're BIG!" (Yes, they are. Plants have a tendency to grow and the Homeowner's intention WAS to screen his property.) She'd approached me more than once, then my assistant, then our gardeners, but wasn't getting the desired result. (I'm sorry, but the Seller wants them left alone.)
Some 13 million people visit Notre Dame a year; one of the world's most iconic and beloved Gothic cathedrals. Not only a notable architectural landmark, Notre Dame also lays claim to countless religious artifacts, including the Crown of Thorns, believed to have been worn by Jesus himself. In spite of its elevated status the world over, it's still very much a working parish, hosting a daily mass, baptisms, weddings, and Easter Sunday services for the citizens of Paris and for anyone who is attracted to its collective history from around the globe, regardless of their religious affiliation or subscribed faith (or lack thereof).
Cliff and I visited Notre Dame just a few years ago. We stayed at a quaint hotel on the island just a few blocks away so this stunning church and sacred monument was part of our daily landscape and view. Quite literally, the centerpiece of Paris and surrounded by the River Seine, Notre Dame has stood as witness to the divine for more than 850 years.
So with the unexpected and tragic news that Notre Dame was on fire on Monday (Notre Damn!) the world watched and waited with bated breath while thousands of Parisians gathered behind the police barricades and sang hymns deep into the night in honor of this magnificent structure and architectural treasure.
It's early Wednesday morning and I'm where I often am - in the kitchen, news on the TV, laptop open and engaged on the counter, and cookies baking in the oven. Today, I'm making chocolate-dipped macaroons for my neighbor's Easter Tea on Friday morning. Next week, I'll make them again for Passover. (In my experience, good macaroons are non-denominational.) My dog, Riley, has been fed and he's sitting at my feet waiting for Cliff to take him on their daily morning hike.
On Sunday evening, we hosted dinner for Lior, our Israeli tour guide who's now visiting California for the next few weeks. This potluck gathering included several couples who'd been on the trip and wanted to return his hospitality with dinner and dessert. We sat around our antique Irish farmhouse table and enjoyed one another's company as we reminisced. We didn't sit at the beautiful, highly-polished round table in the formal dining room, or on the comfy sofas in the living room - we gathered in the kitchen. (And to give credit where credit is due, Cliff cooked the chili while I tended to my Open House at 45 Lane Court.)
Last week, I received an unexpected impromptu invitation: "Hey Julie, I'm heading to Tahoe to ski Thursday and Friday, would you like to join me? (Why yes, I would.)
So with Jill manning the ship and Cliff taking care of the house, his mother and Riley, I quickly packed my bag, dug out my old ski paraphernalia, bought some chains for the tires (just in case) and drove up on Wednesday afternoon in the rain and snow. Never mind that the last time I skied was three years ago and I wasn't sure I still knew how; I was banking on muscle memory and taking advantage of the windfall. (Thank you.)
Happily, Thursday gave us clear skies through the first half of the day and Friday provided magical spring skiing with the lake in full glorious view. And while my out-of-shape thighs were certainly taxed on many of the steeper runs, I did manage to get down the mountain fairly unscathed and still breathing normally. (Okay, I had one spectacular yard sale, but the soft snow provided a cushion and there was nary a soul on the hill to witness it.)
Each week, Jordan Gunn, editor of The San Francisco Chronicle's "Sound Off" column, sends out a question to local Bay Area Realtors looking for answers and insights. Invariably, it's a race to "yes," but this week, his inquiry was spot on, relating directly to my own experience last weekend with new Buyers, so I decided to participate just the same. (Thank you, Jordan.)
ACT ONE, SCENE ONE:
Exedera Park, Piedmont: Off to one side, there's an active playground with a climbing structure, swings, a slide, monkey bars, and mounds of soft sand. Young kids are happily playing. A huge Magnolia tree shades the lawn and a majestic fountain flows musically nearby. The benches are lined with doting parents and one lone Piedmont Realtor (that's me) who's meeting her new clients for the first time.
The Clients: fantastic, dynamic dual-professionals with two children, a healthy budget, a working knowledge of the marketplace, flexibility with respect to style and condition, and most importantly, realistic expectations. (Those are my favorite kinds of Buyers!)
The Goal: Excellent public schools, a welcoming backdrop, diversity within the greater community, 3-4 bedrooms, approximately 3,000 square feet, a guest space for visiting parents, and a doable commute to downtown San Francisco. (I speak your language.)
So with adorable kids in tow, we set off around town, and I began the fifteen-cent tour:
Despite the rainfall this week, spring officially arrived at 2:58 pm on Wednesday. Of course, here in the East Bay, we didn't need an announcement to tell us the seasons were changing, we could see it in the blooming Magnolias, the sunny daffodils, and the stunning cherry blossoms scattered throughout town. As an avid gardener, watching my roses, hydrangeas, and clematis seemingly sprout overnight and come back to life makes this my favorite time of year. Every day, it's a new surprise; a fresh unfurling, and a not-so-subtle reminder of the cycle of life.
Not only has the spring arrived in our gardens, parks and hillsides, it's also arrived with respect to the real estate "Spring Market" which is typically the most active time of year. Thus, every day, new listings are "springing" up, posting onto the MLS (Multiple Listing Service) and then populating to your favorite search engines, whatever they may be. It's also the time of year when new Buyers arrive in force, hoping to establish residency before the next school year.
Working with these fresh new faces, I'm reminded that while Buyers are nearly fluent on searching the Internet for that "Pinterest-perfect" home, AND are surprisingly knowledgeable about the list-to-sales price many properties have experienced, they're often far less well-informed about the costs of buying a home (closing costs) or the ongoing costs of ownership (annual property taxes and maintenance)!
It's not unusual to receive a call from new Buyers moving from San Francisco, Redwood City, Marin, or in some cases, towns and cities much further afield, looking to buy a home in the East Bay. Comparatively, The East Bay is still viewed as highly affordable when placed against these much higher-priced communities (although Oakland's median prices continue to rise).
Invariably, we get around to their "wish list," which often goes like this: "We'd love a house near BART, in a good shopping district, with at least 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and oh, a little cottage out back or extra space downstairs we can rent out for extra income would be great." (Yes, it would.)
"What's your price point?" I ask.
I spent the first 15 years of my marriage in San Francisco where Cliff and I managed to buy and renovate four homes. I also gave birth to both our boys, and held down a busy sales job (not necessarily in that order). As an independent manufacturer's representative who called primarily on commercial design and architectural firms, I could pinpoint nearly every back street, alley and available parking lot in town, but that was then . . . this is now. NOW, I can easily navigate the streets of Piedmont, Oakland and Berkeley just as comfortably; in fact, even better. (That's not a Lyft driver passing by, that's actually me.)
In the intervening 14 years, San Francisco has changed dramatically, the Mission District is one of the hottest places to live, and whole neighborhoods have either undergone transformation or emerged altogether with new housing opportunities that didn't exist when I lived there. In short, there are entire neighborhoods in the City of which I know little to nothing about!
The property had barely been entered into the MLS (Multiple Listing Service), had been on the market for less than an hour, and had only just debuted when I received a phone call from a well-meaning, but slightly naive Agent asking if the Sellers would entertain a preemptive offer. A "preemptive" offer is an offer that comes in prior to the offer date AND only exists in a seller's market when more than one offer is anticipated.
"Thanks very much for your interest, but we'll be accepting offers a week from Tuesday at noon. Please join us then," was my polite response.
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 12 years and has published more than 500 essays. She is also a frequent contributor to the Sound Off column in the Real Estate section of The San Francisco Chronicle.